Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent by Amy Adele Hasinoff

2. Beyond Teenage Biology

  • Many people and much of the media blame raging hormones and immature brains for teen sexting behavior. Doing so diverts attention from malicious privacy violators. Instead the focus is on the need to protect innocent teen girls from themselves. There is evidence from scientific literature that this is the case. Adolescent turmoil appears to be due in part to cultures and to the fact that most cultures separate students by age when they go to school. This can also explain the misleading notions that teens blindly follow teen trends without thought. Viewing the teen brain as somehow defective leads to some sympathy when it comes to the criminal system. It also leads to a lack of rights in terms of free speech and due process.
  • We assume that teens are naturally astute when it comes to the use of technology when in fact, tech expertise correlates more strongly with class than age. Educators should not assume that teens don’t need to be taught digital media skills. Sexting is seen as a consequence of the combination of technology and teen biology and the focus is almost always on girls. Boys, meanwhile, are busy consuming pornography rather than creating it. Potential girl victims are seen as responsible for minimizing their risks. Amy’s key point is that consensually sexting girls are entitled to sexual expression, desire, and pleasure. Teen sexual exploration is necessary for individuals to develop naturally into sexually healthy adults. To Amy, sexting is a normal extension of teen sexual exploration. Such behavior should not be criminalized.

3. Self-Esteem, Advice, and Blame

  • This chapter summarizes the efforts of a number of campaigns aimed at preventing sexting. The most common assumption is the girls who engage in sexting do so due to lack of self-esteem even thought there is no evidence to support this claim. There are even suggestions from the research that girls with higher self-esteem are more likely to sext. The idea that a girl who likes herself is more likely to follow safety rules is not supported by findings that people with high self-esteem may take more risks.
  • Self-esteem for the most part is something you have or don’t have due to your conditions in life, and it is something that you can’t fix by just attacking self-esteem. The campaigns are also noted for saying and doing nothing to deal with the people who do the harassing and who violate privacy. Once again the victim is expected to shoulder the blame and take action to prevent further attacks. Teen girls are also portrayed as innocent dupes.
  • Although there is a great fear of online predators, strangers who stalk adolescents online are rare. Most unwelcome comments come from peers and most are not seen as distressing. Perpetrators of real sexual violence are usually intimate partners, family members and acquaintances rather than strangers. Why are we only asking girls to modify their behavior rather than males who victimize them? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a regretful teenage boy in a PSA saying that sending out his ex-girlfriend’s private image was a big mistake? Anti-forwarding messages could promote conversations about digital privacy and a suggested campaign slogan could read: “You got a sext? Congrats! Want another? Respect her privacy.”
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